As I was preparing to leave for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the various year-end and decade-end stories about how technology has failed us. In fact, The New York Times featured a piece titled “The Decade Tech Lost Its Way” that chronicled various milestones in the decade and the role technology played. But I did not see the totality of those milestones with the same conclusion of “tech losing its way.” I viewed it more as “the decade tech grew up” or at least “tech’s adolescent decade.” By the end of the decade, the investor community had grown intolerant of mismanaged, unprofitable unicorns, California passed its landmark privacy legislation that will ultimately lead the way nationally, and social media giants began to recognize their responsibility in our democracy with Twitter’s ban on political ads.
Yes, we have a long way to go, but we are certainly on our way. If you are one who believes in humanity, the human spirit and our ability to innovate, improve, change and evolve, then you must embrace failure and mistakes along our collective journey to success. This conviction is what drives many entrepreneurs. It certainly drives me.
The show floor at CES brimmed with this entrepreneurial optimism and technology trends that will transform and evolve a variety of industries, and the fitness industry is not exempt. The fitness industry is larger than it’s ever been, valued at $32 billion, and I expect that it will only continue to grow. But even as the industry booms, Americans are unhealthier than ever before, with 647,000 Americans dying from heart disease each year and obesity affecting around 93.3 million American adults. With access to all of this new technology at our fingertips, where is the disconnect?
As we reflect on the latest technology trends out of CES and examine how 2020 is shaping up, here are some ways I have seen technology impact the fitness industry and people’s lives.
‘Futuristic’ tech is now in our living rooms.
As evidenced by the CES showroom floor, we’ll see a proliferation of technology like voice recognition, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robots, 5G connectivity and the internet of things incorporated into fitness solutions in 2020 and beyond. Fitness gadgets that were once considered wildly fanciful or unattainable — the kind of magical technologies that captivated us in Back to the Future Part II — are now commonplace. Programs are being created that leverage machine learning, image recognition and motion tracking to create a historically unheard-of level of customization to accomplish goals like adjusting your form during a workout. Sure, you can go to the gym and consult a personal trainer, but you don’t have to now that you have these capabilities in the comfort of your living room.
Industries are blending.
Technology has undoubtedly become inextricable from every industry, and the lines between fitness and entertainment have blurred. Virtual reality goggles allow you to take a placid bike ride through the Italian countryside from the comfort of your own home, providing a mentally soothing setting in tandem with a physically rigorous workout. The mental and the physical are working together: Homes are the new gyms, and exercise needs to entertain. And while this is all attractive to the end user, the health statistics in our country speak volumes. Despite the plethora of new wearable, at-home equipment, apps and video content available, the fitness technology industry is ripe for innovation. We, as an industry, need to find a way to harness all of the benefits of modern technology to help people lead healthier lives, sustainably.
Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t cutting it.
Let’s face it. Lots of companies claim they’re “innovating,” but what does this really mean — and, more importantly, why are they doing it? We need technology to be able to solve real problems for consumers and to provide meaningful, sustainable benefits. As industries blend together, brands need to consider their audiences closely. It’s no longer enough to speak to “everybody” in a generalized sense.
We also can’t have fancy tech for fancy tech’s sake. CES showcased a number of innovative product solutions that clearly innovated with purpose — for example, shoe inserts that analyze your running style and provide feedback, and a smart helmet with built-in safety lights that narrates directions while you cycle are both standouts.
If we want to enable real change and create solutions that help in reversing the discouraging statistics around heart health and obesity, we need to leverage technology in a way that balances the personal nature of each individual’s unique fitness journey while ensuring the technology and programming are both approachable and sustainable. While this poses a challenge for the fitness industry, it is also loaded with potential.
Focusing on what’s next in the 2020s, we need to pay close attention to how we integrate innovative technology into our lives in both a meaningful and practical way. Embracing innovation is the first step, and we’ve done that. Now it’s time for the hard part, which means actually helping people create significant, lasting change in their lives. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it all plays out.